well-being

Maybe the Geico Piggy Got It Right

One of the popular TV advertisements these days stirs up both irritation and intrigue inside me every time it plays.  It's the Geico Insurance commercial with the little piggy squealing with delight "Wee, Wee, Wee" all the way home as it rides in the car with its head out the window.  It's obviously having the time of its life and loving every minute of the ride home, much to the irritation of the woman and her son. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8F_G2zp-opg]

The sound of the high-pitched squealing irritates me.  The concept and message, at the same time, intrigue me.  Though it's advertising an insurance company (most of whose commercials are very lame to me), the attitude being graphically displayed is quite powerful the more I watch it.  The pig is experiencing absolute delight in something most of us would consider terribly mundane - riding in the car on the way home.

That pig's attitude and experience stand out to me this Thanksgiving Season.  It's amazing how an attitude of delight in the simple things impacts one's experience.  Some people call it an Attitude of Gratitude.  And the more the experts study this simple attitude, the more profound they discover the results of stepping into it truly are.

My wife Shasta forwarded me one of her blogger friend's posts today because it was on this issue of gratitude.  In the post, author Rachel Bertsche quotes from this morning's Wall Street Journal that references the latest scientific research:  “Adults who frequently feel grateful have more energy, more optimism, more social connections and more happiness than those who do not, according to studies conducted over the past decade. They’re also less likely to be depressed, envious, greedy, or alcoholics. They earn more money, sleep more soundly, exercise more regularly and have greater resistance to viral infections.” (“Thank You. No, Thank You,” Wall Street Journal, 11/23/2010)

Imagine that!  Who among us wouldn't want more energy, optimism, social connections, and happiness?  Who among us wouldn't want less depression, envy, greed, or addiction?  Who among us wouldn't want more money, restful sleep, exercise, and greater disease resistance?  Hard to pass on those effects!  And think of it - all from simply stepping into gratitude.

I've read study after study, and research experiment after research experiment, on the impact of gratitude, and they all offer the same conclusions:  people who find specific, tangible ways to delight in their lives, to express gratitude for what they already have, are at least 25% happier and experience a much higher degree of personal and relational well-being than those who don't practice gratitude.

Knowing all of this has prompted my wife Shasta and me to adopt the very simple practice every morning at the end of our spiritual devotion time.  We both have iPhone apps called Gratitude! So we open it up, spend the next few minutes writing at least 5-6 things we're grateful for, and then share our lists with each other.  I've been in awe of the inspiration as well as sense of well-being this activity has given to both of us.  [Dr. Martin Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and leading researcher on the dynamics of happiness, has discovered that the most effective tool for raising personal happiness and well being is the gratitude journal.  And one of the powers of it is that it is so simple and easy to do.  You can do it any time, any where.]

This morning Shasta and I were sharing our lists and I mentioned one of my items:  "I'm grateful for the fun ride on the shopping cart with Shas down the long ramp at Costco."  The moment I read it, we both broke out laughing hilariously with the memory of that experience yesterday (it's actually our very regular practice whenever we finish our shopping at Costco - the ramp down to the parking lot rocks, much to the dismay at times of some of the boring customers slowly walking their carts!).  Our endorphins and dopamine were literally bubbling through our systems as we laughed in memory. :)

There is power in gratitude and in the ability to find delight in the simple things.  Don't you think?  So what gratitude list will you come up with this Thanksgiving?  Why not even make it a regular spiritual practice?  After all, a few extra endorphins and dopamine hormones squealing "Wee, Wee, Wee," all the way home through your system can't hurt!  If little piggy can do it for Geico, maybe you and I can do it for ourselves, too!

Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm very grateful for each of you who continue letting me into your computers and hopefully hearts. :)

Can Holiness Invade Your Office and Your Kitchen? Part 2

[If you're here at this Blog for the first time, click back and read Part 1 of this topic:  "Can Holiness Invade Your Office and Your Kitchen?"  It will fill out this post more meaningfully.] As I noted in my last blog post (see "Can Holiness Invade Your Office and Your Kitchen?  Part 1"), Dr. Susan Smalley, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, talks about the importance of developing a pervasive spirituality, where the sacred is seen and experienced as inherent to daily life.  She has discovered that this kind of spirituality has great impact on minimizing individual self-centeredness and increasing a deeper sense of personal well-being and compassion for others.

I love the way Brian McLaren, in his book Finding Our Way Again, describes the process of developing a pervasive spirituality.  He says that rather than simply trying so hard to practice our faith (which ends up only adding to our already over-filled To Do lists), we could be “Faithing our practices” - "embuing our normal [everyday] practices with meaning derived from faith.” It's about learning how to see Holiness in every part of our ordinary days.

The Jews do this with what they call "the blessing."  By giving a blessing for everything they encounter during the day, they are reminded of the sacredness of all of life because a Blessing isn't something that embues what is being blessed with goodness or God's presence.  A blessing is simply a tangible, intentional act of acknowledging the inherent Sacredness and Goodness in those things as gifts from God.  “The purpose of the ancient way and the ancient practices is not to make us more religious.  It is to make us more alive to God ... alive to [God’s whole world].” (McLaren)

The Hebrews in scripture also built altars of remembrances out of stones at places where they encountered the Sacred and Divine in meaningful ways.  Why put ordinary rocks on top of each other on the side of busy thoroughfares and even in out of the way places?  The point was that every time they saw them they could be reminded of God's activity in their lives.  They could tell each other the story of their encounter with God and remember that life is sacred and blessed.  Stone altars to help holiness pervade ordinary life.

I wear a ring that has a cross on it on the middle finger of my right hand.  It was a gift from my wife.  It's there as a constant reminder of my calling and life purpose.  Throughout the day, I'll feel it and look down and notice the cross and remember:  I am loved; I have a divine purpose; my life is a calling to live for God.  It's amazing how that thought, generated by a tangible symbol, suddenly transforms that moment into a sacred moment, a divine encounter, an embracing of God's continuing and pervasive presence in my life.

Last Saturday, at my Second Wind spiritual community, in the middle of our discussion on this topic, we engaged in what is called prayerwalking.  We all went outside and individually walked around the neighborhood community with the goal of  intentionally noticing what captured our attention.  We were to do several things:  1) What did we notice?   2) Offer a blessing on it.  3) Consider how it reflected God to us?  How was the Sacred revealed to us through it?  And 4) pause and be in the moment.  Then when we all returned to the room, we tried to capture our experience by jotting thoughts/reflections on paper, staying silent, staying in that Sacred Space.

When we debriefed the experience, it was astounding how much all of us described paying attention to life around us in new and meaningful ways.  There was a sense of sacredness we expressed feeling as we each walked around the blocks in such an intentional frame of mind.  The activity reminded us how something as simple as walking around with a different intention (an open, more "enlightened," purposeful mind) could contribute to a more meaningful spiritual experience and a greater receptiveness to life around us.  When you begin seeing all of life as sacred and spiritual, you look at it all very differently.

What symbols, reminders, tangible ways do you have to remember the Sacred and the Divine all through your day?  How are you decompartmentalizing your spirituality so that all of life is experienced as holy and sacred and thus more meaningful and purposeful?

I love the way Carrie Newcomer describes this in one of her songs, "Holy As A Day Is Spent":

holy is the dish and the drain the soap and sink, and the cup and plate and the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile showerheads and good dry towels and frying eggs sound like psalms with bits of salt measured in my palm it’s all a part of a sacrament as holy as a day is spent

holy is the busy street and cars that boom with passion’s beat and the check out girl, counting change and the hands that shook my hands today and hymns of geese fly overhead and spread their wings like their parents did blessed by the dog, that runs in her sleep to chase some wild and elusive thing holy is the familiar room and quiet moments in the afternoon and folding sheets like folding hands to pray as only laundry can i’m letting go of all my fear like autumn leaves made of earth and air for the summer came and the summer went as holy as a day is spent

holy is the place i stand to give whatever small good i can and the empty page, and the open book redemption everywhere i look unknowingly we slow our pace in the shade of unexpected grace and with grateful smiles and sad lament as holy as a day is spent

and morning light sings “providence” as holy as a day is spent

Perhaps every day life could be filled with a deeper sense of well-being and meaning if we intentionally saw the holiness in all of it?  Maybe we could close the HPI (Happy Planet Index) gap here in the States if we allowed our spirituality to pervade all of life, including our offices, our kitchens, and even the baby's play pen?  Want to join me in experimenting with this?

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Can Holiness Pervade Your Office and Your Kitchen? Part 1

I read recently about a person who discovered that he should drink 16 glasses of water a day. The next morning he brought to his office a large pitcher filled with water. Throughout the day that pitcher on his desk frequently reminded him of his need, and he'd pour another glass and drink. Overall, it was a positive experience—other than having to go to the bathroom 27 times in a period of eight hours. Remaining hydrated, he learned from that experience, requires intentionality. He had to stop periodically in the midst of his busyness, become aware of his body's need for liquid, and take a few moments to drink a glass of water.  It was amazing how helpful having that pitcher of water in front of him all day was to his intention of drinking more water. Intentionality is a huge piece of what makes people effective and successful - setting intentions and then determining a specific course of action to accomplish those intentions.  It applies to every area of life, right?  We intentionalize what we desire, what we can and what we have control over, and then hold it all with an open hand, recognizing that sometimes the best things that happen do happen as surprises.  However, intentionality is an important value.  And what helps our intentions become reality are the tangible reminders we put in front of ourselves regularly of what we're trying and wanting to do - finding ways to integrate our intentions with the rest of our lives.

Dr. Susan Smalley, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, posted an article in the Huffington Post last week in which she tries to understand some of the  reasons India ranks so much higher than the United States on the Happiness Index (especially considering the comparative massive economic disparity and rampant poverty in India).  The Happy Planet Index (whose most recent compilation came out in July 2009)  strips the view of the economy back to its absolute basics:  what we put in (resources), and what comes out (human lives of different length and happiness).  Its the first ever index "to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which country by country, people live sustainable, long and happy/meaningful  lives."  That's the way they define it.  The resulting global index of the 143 nations reveals some interesting comparisons.

So after just returning from her first trip to India, she reflects on her experience of its culture and posits a significant observation.  First of all, she defines spirituality as "a sense of connection to something larger than oneself."  And then, recognizing recent research that shows that spirituality positively impacts health and well-being, she describes her experience in India:

"In India this attention to spirituality is pervasive.  It is evident in every aspect of the culture - there is constant integration of reminders that we are part of something larger than the self ... in the shrines present on every street corner, sides of houses, roadside stops, hilltops, alleyways, back of tractor trailers, and beyond.  Shrines are big, small, colorful, bland, dedicated to Shiva, Ganesh, Hanuman, or thousands of other manifestations of our shared nature, to Hindus the manifestations of a Oneness or God or an Ultimate Reality.  It is evident in the pervasive Namaste - a greeting with hand folded in a prayer position accompanied by a bow that means something like 'I see the Oneness in you.'  It is evident in the pervasive 'bindi,' the smudge of color between the eyebrow - a reminder that we are part of something larger than the self - visible by a 'third eye' if you will … I am so impressed with the complete integration of spiritual development into daily life.  Being surrounded by constant reminders of our connectedness and dependent nature make emotions and actions stemming from self-centeredness more difficult to come by."

In contrast here in the West, we tend to compartmentalize our time for spiritual practice if we engage in any at all - once a week in spiritual gatherings, or a specific meditation time each day, or at religious Holidays, or prayer at meals.  Other than these moments, the rest of our lives is rarely surrounded by spiritual reminders or awareness.  Our passion to separate Church from State, our carefulness to maintain distinction and distance between the spiritual and the secular, has led to an overly heightened sense of individuality and independence and self-importance.  Our worldviews have gradually narrowed through the decades from cosmos to planet to nation to city to neighborhood to self, with whatever happening to self carrying the ultimate significance and importance.

This reality, suggests Dr. Smalley, helps to explain some of the difference between India and the U.S. on the Happiness Index - it's about how pervasive spirituality is in everyday life.

The point is, the journey of spirituality (and a corresponding sense of well-being and happiness) don't simply happen by chance.  It takes intentionality and thought and discipline.  It takes structuring our lives around tangible reminders of our connection "to something larger than ourselves."  It takes decompartmentalizing our lives and integrating spirituality into the flow of daily existence.  It means allowing the divine to incarnate itself into the fiber and fabric of our lives.  It means engaging in specific activities, tangible reminders, intentional words, visual - auditory - kinesthetic experiences.

So what would it look like to make spirituality a way of life for me?  What intentional ways do I build into my day to be reminded of transcendence?  How intentional are I about living life deeply and with greater awareness and enlightenment?

STAY TUNED TO PART 2:  What are some tangible ways to facilitate a more pervasive spirituality?

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